ConFiguring America: Iconic Figures, Visuality, and the American Identity (abstracts June 21, 2010; manuscripts Dec 2010)

full name / name of organization: 
Klaus Rieser, Michael Fuchs, and Michael Phillips / Department of American Studies, University of Graz (AUT)
contact email: 

Call for Contributions to Edited Collection
ConFiguring America: Iconic Figures, Visuality, and the American Identity

US icons play an essential role in the discourses of US culture. On the one hand, they may be seen as normalizing agents that help foster a "Pluribus Unum" against tendencies of pluralism and atomism. In this capacity, they attempt to focus and anchor the sliding of signification and to foster social cohesion by placing consensus over conflict. They therefore function as agents of hegemony that aid in the manufacturing of consent by freezing historical situations and relationships into mass-mediated (and often mass-marketable) forms. On the other hand, since icons are deeply rooted in popular culture, they are also susceptible to challenge or manipulation by non-dominant social groups. Furthermore, since the public is a body of strangers, public discourses in fact require symbols of central values and issues. In this context, one could argue that icons are not so much hegemonic tools as they are democratic elements that symbolize popular interests and epistemological shifts.

This book project will focus on a particular kind of US-American icon, namely the iconic figure. The term 'iconic figure' embraces subjects from a wide variety of fields (e.g. politics, entertainment, sports), be they historical (e.g. MLK, JFK) or fictional (e.g. Bart Simpson, Lara Croft), hegemonic (e.g. Uncle Sam, Ronald Reagan) or counter-hegemonic (e.g. Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk). Although these figures differ in many respects (e.g. their methods of creation, the cultural work they perform), we would argue that they share some very important features: they embody contradictions, prompt disagreement about their meaning, are continually negotiated, and possess a certain historical durability.

We are particularly interested in contributions that consider the role of the visual in the construction, maintenance, subversion, and function of iconic figures (e.g. Why do we usually have very specific mental images associated with iconic figures? Where do these images come from? How are they distributed? etc.). Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • the 'life cycle' (creation - maintenance - evolution - re-launch - death) of iconic figures
  • biological mortality and iconic (im)mortality
  • the cultural work (social, political, semiotic) of iconic figures
  • marginal icons and their rise to mainstream (from Rosa Parks to Jenna Jameson)
  • the manipulation and contestation of (images of) iconic figures
  • celebrity and star studies in relation to iconic figures
  • US-American iconic figures and the 'global iconomy'
  • iconic figures and aural culture (see W.J.T. Mitchell in Journal of Visual Culture's 'Obama Issue')

Please send abstracts of 300-500 words and a brief bio to Michael Fuchs at by June 20, 2010. You can also contact Michael if you have any questions prior to the submission of your abstract. We will acknowledge receipt of all abstracts submitted. If you do not receive a reply within 72 hours, you should assume we did not receive your proposal (i.e. it was probably lost in the endless depths of cyberspace). In this case, please re-send! The deadline for manuscripts will be in December 2010.

Klaus Rieser, Michael Fuchs & Michael Phillips
Department of American Studies
University of Graz, Austria